For some elderly survivors of Japan’s March earthquake and tsunami, comfort has come in the form of a small, white robotic seal named Paro.
Returning residents of a retirement home 17 miles south of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant have been lent two of the robots by the manufacturer.
They are treated as pets by the residents, many still dealing with memories of the quake. “If I hold on to this, it doesn’t matter if there’s a typhoon outside, I still feel safe,” said 85-year-old Satsuko Yatsuzaka, after she had been hugging one of the seals for about half an hour.
While some retirement homes have used animals to help with therapy for residents, the Suisyoen retirement home’s general manager Taku Katoono said using therapeutic robots lowered many of the barriers normally in the way of using live animals.
“First of all it’s necessary to have a live animal to raise for animal therapy. That however is rather difficult in certain situations and so in this case we use a doll, albeit a robotic one, as an alternative method to help them recover,” Katoono said.
As the robots can only hold a charge for an hour and a half, they are normally used in the morning and then charged over lunch to be used again in the afternoon.
Ayako Shizo, who lost her house in the tsunami and is now living at Suisyoen said she liked playing with the seal, despite not previously having pets.
“It’s just as cute a little living creature and so everyone is looking after it every day. It does sometimes runs out of batteries and stop. But when it’s got its eyes open everyone stands around talking to it, asking it how it’s doing and such,” Shizo said.
Local media have reported that more than half of the victims of the tsunami were over 65 years old, with survivors still attempting to heal their mental scars.
Suisyoen said that currently they don’t plan on getting any more Paros, but if one resident becomes especially attached to one of them they may increase the number of furry companions for the residents.